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Study: Midlife Women's Stroke Risk is Almost Triple Men's

March 1, 2010

VANCOUVER, Wash. - For a few years now, medical research has pointed to women's increased risk of stroke as they age. A new study of 2,200 adults ages 35 to 64 has quantified it: Women are 2.9 times more likely to have a stroke than men of the same age. Althought these women had lower blood pressure and better overall blood chemistry than the men, the women had more abdominal fat.

The findings don't surprise Dr. Bob Djergaian, director of Rehabilitative Services and Comprehensive Stroke Center at the Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver. He helps rehabilitate stroke victims and is seeing more - and younger - women with heart problems. Stress might also be a factor, he says, as many women juggle jobs and caregiving at midlife and tend to put themselves last. He says economic stresses don't help, either.

"Unfortunately, we're seeing too many people who can't afford health care, can't afford medication, and they're not doing anything about it from that perspective. There's also the issue of fast foods being cheaper and being less healthy. So, I think the economy is certainly creating some issues."

Djergaian's stroke patients tell him they never thought it could happen to them - although they knew they weren't eating right or getting enough exercise. He shares this advice:

"Work on all of the risk factors, not just weight and activity. Those are two of the critical ones, but especially people who have a family history of stroke and heart disease absolutely must look at their diet. Stop smoking, if they're smoking; make sure their diabetes is under control, if they have it."

Djergaian says one of his team's toughest challenges is getting people, even after they've had strokes, to stay active and keep the weight off.

"It's a major issue, and it's one of the issues that reflects why there's probably a higher incidence of stroke in the Northwest, both in men and women."

The American Heart Association says about 55 percent of Oregon women are either overweight or obese. Until that changes, Djergaian predicts the numbers of strokes and heart attacks will continue to climb.

The study, from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, was presented Feb. 25 at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR